Bayan Indah – a Malaysian culinary retreat

Bayan Indah is a gorgeous villa tucked away in the small Malay community of Sungai Penchala near the Kuala Lumpur suburb of Damansara. Backed by dense, rainforest-covered hills and surrounded by gurgling streams, a large fish pond and aromatic herb gardens, the villa is a serene oasis just 30 minutes outside the centre of Kuala Lumpur.

Bayan Indah

Bayan Indah's herb garden

Run by the lovely Rohani Jelani, Bayan Indah is a beautiful retreat for those seeking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. But Bayan Indah is more than just a retreat, it is also a place where guests come to experience and learn about authentic Malaysian cuisine.

Rohani is an avid proponent of cooking with organic ingredients. In a country where traditional cooking techniques are slowly making way for quick-and-easy solutions (like ready-made pastes and other concoctions), Rohani is an advocate of a back-to-basic approach to Malaysian cooking – many of the ingredients come from her backyard and everything, from the soup bases to sauces and herb and spice mixes for marinades, is made from scratch. Rohani aspires to rediscover traditional Malaysian cooking techniques, using traditional kitchen cookware, document them and pass these on to younger generations, and her efforts thus far command deep respect.

Cooking courses at Bayan Indah

Rohani explained the many herbs used

Rohani conducts a variety of cooking courses at Bayan Indah which provide guests with fascinating insights into traditional Malaysian cooking. I attended the course on Malay ‘kampung’ (village) style cooking and it was an amazing sensory experience that certainly opened my eyes to the finer points of Malay cooking. Rohani took her time to explain the various herbs and spices and what they could be used for. Everyone was invited to touch, smell and taste each ingredient before being ushered into one of the prettiest tropical kitchens I’ve ever seen!

Traditional Malay recipes were introduced such as ‘Nasi Kerabu’ (aromatic, herb-filled rice), ‘Ayam Percik’ (chicken in a spicy coconut gravy) and ‘Kerabu Jantung Pisang’ (spicy banana flower salad). We were divided into teams of two and were given three recipes: two main courses and a dessert.

The kitchen opens into the tropical rainforest!

It’s not until you attend Rohani’s course that you start to appreciate the amount of work that goes into Malay cooking – for instance, I spent 45 minutes slowly stirring grated coconut in a wok above a very slow fire just to get it to look golden brown (not black) and create a light, smoky (not burnt) flavour!

Stirring the grated coconut...

Rohani also taught us how villagers roll herb leaves (small leaves are packed into a large leaf) into a tight ‘cigar’ before chopping it up – this method creates a blend of herbs which bursts to life when they’re sliced very thinly; the aromas that emanated from that ‘cigar’ of herbs were absolutely gorgeous. Rolling it up tightly into a ‘cigar’ also makes it easier to slice into very fine pieces.

Rohani demonstrates a traditional fold-and-slice method

It was a noisy affair: laughter mixed with the whirring of blenders or the pounding of pestles. Rohani fluttered around the kitchen, inspecting the groups and making sure we knew what we were doing! 🙂 She would stop us occasionally to explain a certain ingredient or technique, or tell us an anecdote. Everyone had a brilliant time!

Rohani tells us the story of a banana flower

Inside a banana flower

Everything was made from scratch, even this pandan essence

Rohani taught us how to finely chop ingredients

We made a lovely spicy salad from these pucuk paku ferns

A mortar and pestle were used to pound spices and herbs

We pounded, chopped and blended herbs and spices to create aromatic marinades. Shallots, ginger, garlic and turmeric were stir-fried while chicken pieces were carefully grilled. The waft of spices that filled the kitchen was simply gorgeous. It was a lovely, fun-filled and not to mention, highly-educational afternoon. The result, as shown below, was a series of mouth-watering Malay dishes!

Aromatic Nasi Kerabu with 6 different herbs

Prawns and pineapple in coconut milk

Kerabu pucuk paku - fern salad

The series of completed dishes

Dessert: Onde Onde - glutinous rice balls filled with palm sugar

Dessert: Serimuka - glutinous rice with a green pandan top-layer

We sat down to a delightful lunch while Rohani kept us entertained with stories of her culinary adventures around the world. After lunch, she took us on a tour around Bayan Indah – guests can stay in any of the four beautiful, spacious rooms upstairs, with views of the forest.

I had an absolutely wonderful time at Bayan Indah. A huge thank you goes to Rohani Jelani for being a great inspiration and for teaching us how it’s really done! If you’re looking for a fascinating culinary experience in a unique ambiance, or if you’re keen to learn the finer points of Malaysian cooking, I highly recommend a stay or cooking course at Bayan Indah. Oh, and please send Rohani my love! 🙂

Bayan Indah
3343, Kampung Palimbayan Indah,
Sungai Penchala,
60000 Kuala Lumpur,

Tel: +60 3 7729 0122

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26 Responses to “Bayan Indah – a Malaysian culinary retreat”

  1. Wandergirl 14/07/2012 2:16 pm

    Wow! Looks so delicious and so fun!

  2. nurul 10/01/2012 1:49 am

    awww! i miss Malaysia (and the foods) after reading this. I wanna go home! sobs

  3. velvet 29/12/2011 10:59 am

    Haha, thanks Laura. I’m sure I have more pics of me in an apron. 😉


  4. Laura 28/12/2011 7:25 pm

    Wow Keith! This location and menu prepared look fabulous and even better, I love seeing a photo of you in an apron! :)))

  5. julieAlfred 21/07/2011 6:42 am

    like cooking and learn about cooking

  6. Vicky Baker 11/12/2010 10:41 pm

    Mmmmm, looks delicious. 10 out of 10 for presentation too. Want to come round and cook for me? 😉
    So, are you going to keep this up when you get home? Was discussing that on a blog this week actually (
    Sometimes it never tastes the same. Looks like you’ve had good tuition in this case though.

  7. velvet 04/11/2010 5:29 pm

    Hi Dannie,
    You might want to get in touch with Rohani (via her website) for your project.


  8. Dannie 04/11/2010 5:22 pm

    does anyone have any ingrediesnts and recipies to any food dishes of this sort?
    i’m doing a biome project on the tropical rainforest and am making food dishes, but i have no idea how to!
    helpppp please?
    thanks (:

    these looks really amazing bythe way!

  9. LeslieTravel 28/09/2010 12:03 am

    Love it! Amazing kitchen, organic ingredients, detailed instruction and superb dishes– I’ve got to take this class 🙂

  10. GRRRL TRAVELER 05/09/2010 3:31 pm

    That fern salad looks scrumptious! I’m hoping to go to Malaysia sometime this year and if the food there is anything like this, then my mouth is watering just thinking of it. I can’t believe so much preparation goes into the food and looks like that Rohani’s class offered a great experience which shows you how one can appreciate the culture and food on a deeper level.

  11. TravelholicA 01/09/2010 3:31 am

    The Prawns and pineapple in coconut milk looks amazing!!!! It will go to my food bucket list!

  12. velvet 31/08/2010 9:06 pm

    Thanks for your comment Amy!
    Bet you miss the nasi kerabu! I do! 🙂


  13. Amy @ The Q Family 31/08/2010 9:03 pm

    Ah.. Look like a great cooking course. Your food pictures remind me of home. Coming from the Southern part of Thailand we share a lot of cuisine from Malaysia especially the Nasi Kerabu. It’s my staple breakfast in my hometown. We called it by different name though. 🙂 Yum!!

  14. Sapawi 30/08/2010 11:55 am

    Though I live in Kuala Lumpur. I never heard about Bayan Indah though Sungai Penchala sounds familiar to me.
    Love that onde-onde or also called Buah Melaka.

  15. maria 30/08/2010 11:28 am

    Wow!! Those dishes look great! I’m hungry now! 😀

  16. gfad 30/08/2010 10:00 am

    Awww.. you make me want to fly back and have another lesson with her! Isn’t Bayan Indah an absolute dream? I love the fresh air and sound of chirping birds and the occasional crowing of a lone rooster. And I’ll bet it’s even more delightful during a heavy tropical thunderstorm as we sit sheltered on the patio enjoying some hot kopi-O, cucur badak and goreng pisang. 😀

  17. velvet 30/08/2010 9:43 am

    LOL! Aren’t you funny! 😛

  18. ciki 30/08/2010 9:42 am

    Wei, u can give up ur day job la.. become full time food & travel blogger, since ur shots are so hawt! Wait a minute.. that IS your dayjob:P mwuahahaha

    A great experience indeed. Thanks for sharing..

  19. velvet 30/08/2010 9:40 am

    That’ll be cool! I had an absolutely memorable afternoon at Bayan Indah. Her passion for authentic Malaysian cooking shines right through! 🙂


  20. A Lil Fat Monkey 30/08/2010 9:38 am

    Rohani would be delighted with this! 🙂


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